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Bioluminescence—light of the future?

Monday, April 28, 2014
Science and Society

The glowing plankton in the Ortoire river has brought to the fore the natural phenomenon of bioluminescence. Many would have seen or heard of fireflies which produced natural lights. The reaction by the public might give the impression that light-emitting organisms are quite rare. That is not the case. In fact, members of most species, ranging from bacteria to sharks, exhibit this characteristic. 



Whilst marine creatures, particularly those that live in the deep are the ones most likely to be luminescent, other like fire flies and glow worms also do. So what exactly is bioluminescence? It might be more accurate to describe the phenomenon as chemiluminescence for it involves the production of light energy from chemical energy. 


Since the production of light energy from chemical energy can also be produced during combustion, for example like the light from flambeaux, candles and fireworks, the name bioluminescence makes it clear that this refers to the production of light within organisms. Also, quite importantly, the chemical reactions are unique. Bioluminescent creatures produce a pigment called luciferin which reacts with oxygen to produce light.


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